Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Part 1 of 2: Going At It Backwards
We’re always pointing out interesting trends observed here at Books & Such. Recently, I’ve had a significant uptick in self-published authors—both in print and e-only—contact me, seeking representation for a self-published book. A number of authors find my office address and actually send me a print copy of the book. A couple of weeks ago I took an entire basket of those kinds of over-the-transom submissions and returned all the books to the sender. Since very few included the old-fashion SASE, it became a very labor-intensive, costly exercise.
I know. I know. Our guidelines say that unsolicited mail submissions will go into the round file but I’m still working toward overcoming my fear of writing in books. Can you imagine me tossing them in a recycle bin? (You can thank Mrs. Broga, my fifth grade teacher, for that.)
As I packed up book after book to return, I longed to explain to these writers that they are going at this backwards. I’ll tell you instead.
First of all, let me clear up a misunderstanding: Some writers contact an agent with a self-published project and ask if we can help them “market” it. That request grows out of confusion as to what we do. We may help our clients navigate different marketing options. We may even help brainstorm marketing initiatives for our clients but, when an author comes to us, he should be seeking literary representation, not book marketing. If a self-pubbed author wants help getting the word out about his book, he needs to look for a book marketing firm.
Here’s the problem with the authors seriously seeking literary representation: If you are coming to me to represent a book that is already published I can only assume the DIY (do-it-yourself) process was a failure. If it’s going gangbusters why would you want to leave self-publishing? Why would you want to pay me a percentage of your royalties? Even if I loved a self-published book, the first question I’m going to ask is, how many copies sold. And I’m going to need to see documentation of that. Remember, when we are considering taking on a new client we are not only assessing the work but we are analyzing which publishers will be interested. If you are selling like the almost-mythic Amanda Hocking or The Shack, then a publisher will jump at the chance to re-publish the book. If you sold three or four thousand e-books in the first year at $3.99 per book, then not so much.
Some of the other things that work against you if you self-pub and then seek an agent and traditional publisher:
- You’ve demonstrated the vigor of your own platform. It’s now quantifiable. That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how vigorously the book sold.
- Building a significant literary career takes perseverance. Some agents and publishers view the self-pubbed author as one who lacks the patience to build slowly and strategically.
- When you make a choice to go it alone, some professionals could see it as a maverick attitude. Does it denigrate what a whole team brings to the process?
All that said, there are some books meant to be self-published. Books that will appeal to the authors own well-known niche. Books written by speakers and marketed to their audiences. Books created for an event or a company.
I’m just saying. . . self-pubbing or self-ePubbing your book may not be putting your best foot forward if your goal is to build a traditional literary career.
So what do you think? Am I just cranky from having to mail out dozens of unsolicited books? Am I missing the positive aspects of dabbling in the self-pub waters before diving into the traditional waters? Some of you may argue that the whole future is changing and you may be right, but we’re talking about terra firma right now, not what’s predicted out in the ether, right?